The Queer Issue
The Queer Issue
Why then is it so confusing?
When I hit puberty and became aware of lust, the confusion stemmed from the increase in focus accompanied by the blurring disappearance of all other phenomena. I'd lived previously in a marvelous, Edenic world filled with undifferentiated sensations, hardly a name among them. But now all sensations narrowed to one: that boy and the way he crossed his legs in shop class.
In the late '60s the raucous garage band Sky Saxon and the Seeds had a song on the radio that we were crazy about, "Let's Get Something Straight Between Us," but I didn't know why I liked it so much. One afternoon another boy filled me in, his hand cupped to my ear. It was a double-entendre, he said (without using that word I'm sure), a reference to erection. In this the visible sign of (male) lust surely the straightness is paramount, the straining for the furthest distance. I always want to ask guys whose erections are curved, do they experience lust with more patience? Is their lust as linear? This hard thing that at 12 pointed at my chin, and now at 45 sticks out into the world, what is it telling me about the nature of desire?
Lust is simple, like all the great gifts. We drive ourselves crazy worrying about it, because the mind can't wrap itself around something so tiny and sublime. Because it's so simple, lust is perhaps the most elegant of sins, and its elegance carries with it an aristocratic poise. It seems refined, the way the guy at the health food store tries to convince me that "ancient grains" are chic now, same with the expensive florist who boasts of nothing but "heirloom blooms," flowers from a hundred or two hundred years ago, before the invention of hybrids. But of course there's nothing less aristocratic than lust, which famously affects the high and the low with the same strange wattage.
Once satisfied, lust eats itself up. It's organic and ergonomic, polite and ecological. It was there, then it disappeared. The man you were so nuts about now looks like every other man. His eyes, his ass, the way he crosses his legs--every other man does the same thing, and we walk past each other like a sea of floating question marks. I had one boyfriend, Craig, for whom I crawled across the floor with two broken ankles to get closer to his lap. I spent thousands of dollars I didn't have to bring him from California to New York to live with me, so great was my need.
And one day, gee, I don't know what happened. I looked at Craig sleeping and a cold revulsion swept over me: the indifference Jeanne Moreau made famous. What had happened? The clock ticked, I guess. Time passed. That's all. Lust is humble in this way; it forgets itself into a vacuum, pleasant as springtime. At the end of a long life, as the man or woman lies dying, does he or she even remember whether once upon a time they were straight or gay?
If lust is a sin, it must be because the accompanying diminution of all else spoils the Aristotelian placidity of "things as they are." You want him; everything else shrinks or pales in comparison. This sudden shift in vision can't be right, say the moralists. For "really" everything is the same size and same color at all times. Ha ha ha, moans the mind deranged by lust. You're poking out of your jeans and there's only one face in the universe. Aristotle is also displeased by the multiplicity of lust's objects since, as the playwright Joe Orton wrote, "Nature excuses no one the freaks' roll call."
My favorite TV commercial at the moment is for American Movie Classics, promoting their AMC program Guide, where you can ask Bob Dorian or Nick Clooney anything you want about the stars. Freeze the frame sometime, as I did, when they scan over sample pages of the guide, and you'll see one column that begins, "Dear Bob Dorian, I am a 12-year-old girl in Tennessee with a strange fascination for the English actor Charles Laughton. Please, what can you tell me about him?" That girl should just relax, I think; she should say to herself, life is now worth living.
That Tennessee girl is simply not used to the feeling, or perhaps she's feeling a little unnerved that she picked not Ricky Martin or Robbie Williams, but a dead 350-pound British slob fag genius to drool over. But gay men and lesbians are faced from the beginning with the unlikeliness, in the world's cruel eyes, of their dream men and women. Our pursuit of our goals, despite all the sermons, laws, and prohibitions, may strike us as heroic on one hand; but we must ask ourselves, could we have done otherwise? Lust lays down its own laws, preaches from its own pulpit; its voice is a whisper, its commandment a caress. It drives away the things of the world like blinders dropped on a horse. When Cupid's arrow flies from its bow, my flesh parts eagerly to receive it.